Governments Turning a Blind Eye to Illegal Lignite Mining in Turów: Local Communities and the Environment Suffer
Damage caused by illegal mining
Cracks in houses, disappearing water in wells, starving cattle, destruction of houses - those are not horrifying views into the future but reality of local communities living next to the immense lignite mine Turów covering an area around 30 square kilometers.
The lignite mine Turów in Poland impacts the environment across borders. In Germany, especially in the Town of Zittau, drainage of groundwater from deep aquifers leads to the lowering of the land surface and cracks in houses. In the Czech Republic, groundwater is disappearing towards Poland and wells become dry. According to the Czech Geological Survey the monitoring boreholes show the lowest numbers in history. In the extraction borehole in Uhelná used for the drinking water for the whole area there is the lowest amount of water in history. In Opolno-Zdroj, a Polish former spa village neighbouring the Turów mine, water disappeared years ago. Now it is waiting for the destruction of half of its houses.
The Czech Republic left locals without protection
The Czech Republic decided to fight against the violation of European law at the Court of Justice of the European Union. The CJEU ordered Poland to cease mining until the case was settled. Poland ignored the court decisions so the CJEU decided to impose a fine to Poland of 500 000 EUR per day. When Poland offered to the Czech Republic an agreement the Czech government accepted money and left locals without powerful protection.
Since the conclusion of the Czech-Polish agreement on 3 February 2022, the Czech government has distanced itself from the problem related to the runoff of Czech water due to the ongoing mining in the Turów lignite mine. By signing the agreement, the Czech government has received EUR 45 million for the construction of emergency infrastructure (drinking water pipes) to some parts of the Liberec region. In return, the Czech Republic withdrew its lawsuit at the CJEU and committed never again to bring a case before the CJEU for breaches of EU rules related to mining at the Turów mine.
Poland withholds information
Under the Agreement, the Czech Republic is to have information on groundwater. This information was requested by the Frank Bold Society on 14 February 2022 and has not yet been received from the Czech Ministry of Environment. The reason for this is now (following the decision of the Ministry of Environment of 6 February 2023) the asserted protection of trade secrets and a copyright protection of the underground barrier. However, according to the Act on the Right to Environmental Information, protection of trade secrets does not apply to information on the environmental impact of an entrepreneur's operational activities. This data could have prevented the granting of a mining permit until 2044, as the Polish Agent stated.
Poland issued mining license without proper environmental impact assessment
In the meantime, the Polish authorities issued a final decision on 30 September 2022 on PGE's report on the environmental impact assessment of the extension of mining. This decision is being challenged in court by environmental organizations and the town of Zittau on the grounds that the report does not adequately describe the impacts of mining on its surroundings. On 17 February 2023, the Polish Ministry of Climate and Environment issued a mining permit until 2044. It justified this on the grounds of attractive jobs and improved macroeconomic indicators. In contrast, it completely ignored the loss of EU funds for a just transition of the region. The decision assessed the impact of the mine on water runoff from the Czech territory as „negligible”.
Local people, environmental organizations from the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany are trying to draw the attention of the European Commission to this situation. However, the Commission has not acted and the environmental damage continues. At the same time, more than 4 000 m3 per day keep flowing into the mine.
EU laws that are being violated by Poland are: